Gabriel Jones’ photos offer a new kind of voyeurism

Jones has been focused on the oft-ignored ‘backdrop’ characters since 2006. His images are drawn together in a book titled Splashes, with gorgeously utilitarian design (standards manual orange, stark sans serif type, no frills), created in house by publisher RVB Books. The series is currently on show at Poush Manifesto in Paris, along with his new series, Pickpocket.
Photography has a longstanding fascination with unposed subjects: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ hinges entirely on the candid; while some of our most famous living photographers have made a career out of snapping spontaneity — Martin Parr, Nan Goldin (to some extent), and Bruce Gilden, to name a few.
These amorphous codes of photographer-as-performer are also at the heart of his newer series, Pickpocket. “I photographed pickpockets in action over two years without them knowing,” he explains. “I started this series after being robbed: I accidentally found the pickpockets in my neighbourhood and started following and studying their complex methods. Pickpocket is different from Splashes but I use the same techniques.” This weirdness is augmented by Jones’ compositional choices and post-production techniques. For Splashes,  his “paparazzi” images were carefully cropped to show only the situation in the background, and enlarged to silly (30×40 inch) proportions considering they were shot on rudimentary early camera phones like a 2006 Sony Ericsson. This meant the pixels are cartoonishly prominent. Adding to the surreality, he “will sometimes erase eyes or mouths, or add a thumb in order to subtly enhance the bizarre quality of an image,” Jones says.
For Splashes, his technique involved carefully creating scenarios just within eyeshot of the background action he was really interested in. He acted as some kind of paparazzi,” as he puts it, at various events, parties and concerts. “My friends posed for me as ‘fake models’ so that the people in the background wouldn’t suspect I was actually interested in them,” he explains. “There are so many weird, isolated situations — or microcosms — happening around you.”

Splashes by Gabriel Jones is published by RVB Books; rvb-books.com. Gabriel Jones’ exhibition is on show at Poush Manifesto until 6 March; poush-manifesto.com
But French photographer Gabriel Jones has taken things one step further by making images that celebrate the oblivious people lurking in the background of a staged image, like a more conceptually rigorous version of pretending to take a selfie because a celebrity happens to be standing behind you, painfully aware of exactly what you’re doing. The title for the Splashes series is a reference to the saturated colours and distinctive laser-like eyes seen throughout the works. Jones says that his “tools” for Splashes were “the voyeuristic” and, more pragmatically, “post production retouching”. He adds that in taking these photographs he becomes part of a “roleplaying game” and that this “art performance element” is all part of the final image.  
Even devoid of context, there’s something fascinating about these oddly cropped characters, the shots’ unusual textures and the way certain distortions amplify people’s odd gestures. Maybe there’s an intrinsic nostalgia in terrible image quality, too, reminding us of a time where technology was far more difficult, but in which everything seemed somehow much simpler.  “Since the beginning of my career I’ve always been interested in using film — there’s something about the grain,” says Jones. “But when digital photography first began, I wanted to explore its imperfections and unpredictable reactions. I don’t consider myself as a photographer, but more an image maker.”

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